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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Early NFL Season Takeaways

Super Bowl “hangovers,” unfortunate injuries and impressive wide-receiver performances stand out in first two weeks of NFL action


By PATRICK FIGUEROA — sports@theaggie.org


The NFL season kicked off on Thursday, Sept. 8 with a matchup of the 2022 Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams and the 2023 Super Bowl favorite Buffalo Bills, who ran away with a 31-10 win. The rest of the NFL teams began their season the following Sunday on Sept. 11, and week one wrapped up on Monday, Sept. 12, with a game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. The Seahawks upset their former quarterback Russell Wilson and his new team with a 17-16 win. 

Week two began on Thursday, Sept. 15 with a highly anticipated contest between division rivals, the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers. The Chiefs won a competitive game 27-24.  Sept. 18 featured lots of upsets, such as the New York Jets’ victory over the Cleveland Browns, led by backup quarterback Joe Flacco. Week two concluded with a Monday night doubleheader in which the Tennessee Titans faced the Buffalo Bills and the Minnesota Vikings faced the Philadelphia Eagles. The Bills once again dominated, beating the Titans 41-7. The Eagles beat the Vikings 24-7

With two weeks of NFL action in the books, many fans are jumping to early conclusions about the teams, and players, to watch this season. 


The Super Bowl Hangover is Real 

The “Super Bowl Hangover” refers to the previous season’s Super Bowl teams having a slow start in the following season. This seems to be ringing true for the Super Bowl 56 teams, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams, who are both off to an underwhelming start to the 2022 season. 

The Bengals lost their first two games of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys. Both games came down to a three-point difference, but there are reasons to be concerned about the Bengals. First, the Bengals’ quarterback, Joe Burrow, has been sacked 13 times through the first two weeks of the season. Burrow has also turned over the ball frequently and is tied with Matt Ryan for the second most pass interceptions through two weeks. 

The Rams have also had a slow start to the season. The week following their opening season loss to the Bills, they nearly blew a 28-3 lead against the Atlanta Falcons. They managed to win the game 31-27, but it would have been a smoother victory if they had not turned the ball over three times and allowed a blocked punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Their quarterback, Matthew Stafford, also leads the league in interceptions thrown

Both the Rams and Bengals have talented teams, but their slow starts have left fans concerned about the rest of the season. These teams will have to adjust their game plans and take better care of the football if they want to emulate their previous season’s success.


Notable Injuries

As with any football season, injuries will occur throughout, but injuries to star players can be especially detrimental to a team’s effort to make the playoffs. Some of the most impactful injuries so far include injuries to Pittsburgh Steelers’ edge rusher TJ Watt, Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Dak Prescott and San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Trey Lance. 

Watt, the Steelers’ edge rusher and 2021 Defensive Player of the Year, suffered a torn pectoral in the opening game of the season. Originally, there was speculation that Watt’s torn pectoral would require surgery, thus ending his 2022 season. However, because the injury does not require surgery, he is expected to return in about six weeks.

Cowboys’ quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a fractured thumb in the Sunday Night Football opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The injury was expected to sideline the franchise quarterback for four to six weeks, though there are rumors that Prescott could return much sooner than originally anticipated. 

Unfortunately, the 49ers’ young second-year quarterback Trey Lance will miss the rest of the season after suffering an ankle fracture in a week two matchup versus the Seattle Seahawks. Fortunately for the 49ers, they were able to keep Jimmy Garoppolo, their 2021 starting quarterback, as their backup quarterback. He will now step back into the starting lineup for the 2022 season.


Wide Receivers Shine with Big Performances 

` Football fans noticed that there were several wide receivers with elite production for their respective teams in the first two weeks of the season. Some of these wide receivers include Miami Dolphins’ Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill, Minnesota Vikings’ Justin Jefferson and Detroit Lions’ Amon-Ra St. Brown. 

The Miami Dolphins have spent a lot of draft capital and financial capital to upgrade their receiving corp in recent years. First, during the 2021 draft, they traded their 2022 first-round pick to move up to the sixth overall pick and selected Jaylen Waddle. Then, in the 2022 offseason, they acquired Chiefs’ superstar Tyreek Hill in exchange for multiple draft picks, including their 2022 first- and second-round picks. Upon receiving Hill, they immediately signed him to a four-year, $120 million contract extension

Through two weeks, it seems these trades are paying off, with Waddle and Hill having a combined 34 receptions, 524 yards and five touchdowns. Their performance especially stood out in the Dolphins’ week two matchup against the Ravens, where they had a combined 22 receptions and over 300 yards. By acquiring these two players, the Dolphins increased their pass production and — arguably more importantly — are helping their young quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa. 

There are also plenty of reasons to be excited about Minnesota Vikings’ wide receiver Justin Jefferson. The young receiver is already a two-time second-team all-pro through his first two seasons in the NFL. In the 2022 offseason, the Vikings hired former Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell as their new head coach. This decision excited many fans, who hoped O’Connell would utilize Jefferson the way he did the Rams’ wide receiver and the 2021 offensive player of the year, Cooper Kupp, last season. This appears to be O’Connell’s plan after Jefferson torched the Green Bay Packers in week one with nine receptions, 184 yards and two touchdowns. Fans hope that this type of production will continue for the rest of the season. 

Amon-Ra St. Brown went viral during the offseason after the HBO show Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Detroit Lions showcased him reciting every wide receiver drafted ahead of him in the 2021 NFL Draft. As the video highlights, St. Brown said that this fall to the fourth round of his draft class motivated him to work hard and perform on the field — which he has. Through two games, St. Brown has 19 touches, 248 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns. The young second-year receiver looks promising for the Lions. 

There are still 15 weeks remaining in the NFL season, during which time lots can change. After witnessing so much action in the first two weeks, NFL fans are excited for the rest of the season. 


Written by: Patrick Figueroa — sports@theaggie.org